Did you know that service members are more likely to be injured in noncombat situations than in combat? Common physical setbacks like shoulder dislocation, sprained ankles, and ACL tears contribute to a high rate of medically unavailable active duty personnel and can even force service members into early retirement.
Effectively training the military athlete requires a balanced approach to physical training that minimizes risk for injury and provides education for service members to continue the program on their own.
Helping the military athlete find balance
Service members’ natural tendency is to bring 100 percent to the job, 100 percent of the time — whether they’re overseas, at home, or training in the gym. That’s good for their job but not when trying to reduce injuries and recover from injuries.
“While we don’t want to diminish their mental fortitude, we try to provide service members with education on how to vary their training intensities to allow for adaptation to the program,” says John Stemmerman, EXOS vice president of performance. “Without balance, service members — like any athlete — develop poor habits and risk fatigue and overuse injuries.”
Teaching the military athlete to move correctly
One-dimensional training programs often fail to prepare service members for the physical demands of the job, resulting in injury from the everyday movement required for their post.
“There’s risk for injury in any movement, whether it’s overseas, at home, or within a recovery training program,” says Stemmerman. “But it’s important to minimize the risk as much as possible by making sure the service member is moving correctly.”
Stemmerman emphasizes that focusing on movement quality shouldn’t come at the expense of increasing performance. “We don’t chase perfection,” he says. “If we only focus on quality but don’t obtain the intensity level needed for improved performance, then the service member won’t make gains.”
And it goes beyond learning the right way to lift a barbell or complete a squat. An effective tactical training program focuses on correct movement patterns while educating the military athlete on the reason behind the movement correction, increasing the likelihood of long-term positive impact.
Educating the military athlete
The nature of the profession means service members spend limited time in one place, which means they’ll often continue a training program without professional guidance. That’s why it’s important for coaches to interact with military athletes in a manner that empowers them with information.
“Let’s say a service member has poor movement quality,” explains Stefan Underwood, EXOS director of continuous improvement. “If we simply use a coaching cue to correct it, we’ve improved their movement quality, but they don’t know why.”
“When service members understand why we recommend certain corrections or adjustments, it becomes teaching, not telling,” Underwood says. “And that means they’re more likely to implement those corrections in their day-to-day jobs.”
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